Although I am discussing my work here, the point of view is my own, and this is not an official statement of the Pittsburgh Youth Study.
I recently helped write a book about the research study for which I am the data manager. We analyzed data collected from 1,009 boys over 13 years, and we learned a lot of interesting things, but there is one finding that nudges me on an almost daily basis:
The level of stress experienced by a boy’s primary caretaker correlates with his tendency to commit crimes. (The study interviewed the primary caretaker as well as the boy until the boy finished high school. For about 90% of our boys, the primary caretaker was the biological mother.) Most notably, boys with stressed-out parents are more likely to persist in committing crimes year after year, and boys with parents who are coping well are more likely to try a crime once but then quit, compared to boys whose parents have an average stress level. When the two things (stress and crime) are measured at the same time, of course you could argue that the boy’s crime is causing his parent’s stress rather than the other way around! But in a multi-year study like this, we’re able to compare things across time, and we found that parental stress in one time period predicts the boy’s delinquency persistence or desistance in later time periods.
Now, it’s important not to stress out about this! I mean, worrying that my overwhelmed and too-busy feelings are going to turn my little boy into a criminal is not going to make me a better mother! The constructive thing to do is to remind myself that pushing myself to the limit all the time and denying my own needs actually makes me the kind of mother who suddenly inexplicably (from his point of view) starts crying and shrieking at him for some minor infraction. In fact, reducing my stress level is better for my child as well as for me. That’s good news!
UPDATE: I found the Perceived Stress Scale online! Please click through and answer these questions for yourself. The higher your score, the more you deserve some help and positive changes in your life!